The Boy Friend at Renton Civic Theatre in Renton, WA

Uncategorized

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I closed out my weekend of theatre at Renton Civic Theatre to see their production of The Boy Friend, a story of a young girl, Polly, in 1920s France who is at a finishing school hoping to find herself a boyfriend so that she can end up married.  She fabricates a boyfriend until she falls for a delivery boy, Tony, whom she lies to about her identity because she’s a very wealthy heiress, and is afraid to tell him the truth for fear of him wanting her for her money.  Unbeknownst to her, he is also in disguise, as the son of an English Lord, which of course, is a wonderful thing to find out as that’s how Brits made marriages back in the day.  He has a title, she has money…a perfect match!

These young star-crossed lovers are surrounded by a cast of characters, one more unforgettable than the next, because this production was absolutely awful.  Let’s start with the fact that it’s a musical.  Therefore the music should be done well.  It was not.  Not from the pit, not from the stage, not from anywhere!  It sounded atrocious.  Music Director Aimee Hong took on the roles of music direction, conducting and playing keyboards, and I feel this was too much.  For a show of this magnitude, I was surprised to see Ms. Hong listed as playing the keyboard as well as conducting.  Perhaps if she streamlined her focus to conducting, and hired a piano player she could focus more on perfecting the music so that it’s pleasing to the ear.

Add to that, the fact that this is an old-school musical where it’s mostly singing and dancing, and by dancing I mean tapping, and this cast of 19 had maybe 4 people who could tap, and the rest couldn’t tap if their lives depended on it, and yet, all of them tapped so much.  Sooooooooo very much, it killed me!  Note to theatre-makers out there…if you’re going to do a tap show and you don’t get tappers out, only let the ones tap who know what they are doing and please, for the love of all that his holy, don’t showcase your worst dancers by placing them in the front and/or in white tights and black shoes to show off how terribly off the beat they are!  I’ve choreographed many a show in my day, mostly for community theatre shows, so there is a way to choreograph novice dancers in a dance heavy show, but the choreographer of this show clearly had no idea how to do that.

This is the type of show that needs a Director/Choreographer, and yet Renton Civic split those roles, to the detriment of both people tasked with these jobs.  I have no idea what the director, John Kelleher, actually had to direct, because by my count there was about 3.5 minutes of the 2.5 hour show that wasn’t dancing and singing.  This left nothing but stage time for Taylor Davis to create, and in my opinion, she failed miserably.  The choreography was too difficult for most of the dancers in her cast, repetitive choreography that was boring in so many parts, and too many people were dancing on that stage.  But the biggest shocker was she did have one phenomenal tapper in her cast, Miss Erin Glaman, who was buried in the chorus for most of the show save for one small duet where she was barely allowed to tap at all!  Made no sense to me.

Honestly, Ms. Glaman out-sang, out-danced and out-acted everyone, including the lead, and I’m not quite sure why she wasn’t cast as Polly, especially given that she’s actually the age Polly is supposed to be, but only the production staff knows what goes on around a casting table.  She was one of only two shining lights in the cast for me.  I look forward to seeing Ms. Glaman in more shows, as she’s only 17 years old, so well done, Ms. Glaman!  Good for you!

The other was Marc “Mok” Moser as Percival Browne, Polly’s father.  He was delightful, and the only actor on that stage who fully understood the presentational style needed for this style of musical.  None of the young actors had a clue how to do the presentational style they were directed to do, and I’m not sure if that’s a fail on the part of Mr. Kelleher or on the cast not knowing how to interpret his direction.  Either way, it drove me nuts!  But Mr. Moser’s scenes were quite wonderful so I am glad I stayed for the whole show to see his full performance.  And believe me, it was tough to do, as bad as this show was.

Did not like this show.  Was not entertained hardly at all.  And the sad state of the music alone will have me hesitating to go back to a Renton Civic show.  The cast looked like they were having a good time out there, but this critic was left seriously disappointed.

Ciao for now,

M sm

Are You There, God? It’s Me. Karen Carpenter! at STAGEright Theatre in Seattle, WA.

play review, Theatre Review, Uncategorized

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When one reads a title like Are You There God? It’s Me. Karen Carpenter, one can’t help but go, ummm…WTF?  I had no idea what to expect when I took my seat at the Hugo House on Capital Hill in Seattle, WA for STAGEright’s opening night performance of their 20th show.  The set was painted very 1970’s stripes, the lighting was psychedelic and the music was, obviously, The Carpenters.  The scene was set for a good time, and I was anxious to see what this was all about.  The house lights went out, and the show began, and for the next 90 minutes or so, I laughed my fool ass off, because this show is friggin hysterical!

This play, written by the brilliant Dane Whitlock, takes the beloved children’s story of Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret, and inserts the songs made famous by Karen Carpenter to drive the story along and it is pure genius.  It’s quirky, it’s witty, and it’s 100% fun!

11391524_953995997955582_1204358077450347862_nSo, what has STAGEright done with with hilariously written tale?  Well, they cast seriously talented actors to transport the audience back to the 1970s to follow the story of young Margaret, played expertly by Emily Rose (EmRo) Frasca!  Oh, my, this chick!  This unbelievably talented chick, elevated one of my favorite childhood characters so beautifully, I was in awe.  Ms. Frasca anchored this show perfectly with her impeccable comedic timing, her wonderfully genuine line delivery, and her hilarious physicality that I was completely able to suspend my disbelief in that this grown woman was a pre-teen sensation, and I adored her!

Mr. Whitlock’s script takes us through all the main components of Judy Blume’s book after Margaret moves to New Jersey and meets Nancy, the sassy young lady who 10511117_956742217680960_7899865495744453442_n
lives down the street.  Nancy is the bossy, queen bee of her own universe, and leads a secret club with Margaret and two other girls, Gretchen and Janie.  These four discuss and experience everything from boys to bras to learning the technical jargon surrounding female reproductive system, and are all just longing to grow up as fast as they can, complete with boobs and menst-a-rating, and the four actors who took on this challenge were phenomenal.

Ms. Frasca was in great company with Shermona Mitchell, as the fiery Janie who is 11401163_956742214347627_1368414406373539369_nneither intimidated by the bossy Nancy, nor is afraid to speak her mind, Abbey Roads as the delightful andhysterical Gretchen who stole every scene she was in (OMG!  Her facial expressions were priceless!  I’m a huge fan!), and Olivia Lee as Nancy who so badly wants to just grow up and is inspired by the women in her dad’s Playboy magazine!  All three of these ladies were fantastic in their roles, completely committed to their characters, each vastly different from the others.

Let me take a moment, though, and talk about Ms. Lee and her amazing portrayal asunnamed-2 Nancy.  The nuances that Ms. Lee creates in her characters is absolutely fascinating. She pulls my focus, in the best possible way, whenever she’s on stage, because she so clearly works her intentions.  I recently saw Ms. Lee as the Witch in STAGEright’s Into the Woods (reviewed here), and I was so impressed with her in that production, that I had high expectations of her in this play, and she did not disappoint!  Her bravery in character development, her fearless silliness, and her phenomenal physicality made  an otherwise irritating character (who Nancy would have been in the hands of a less skilled actress) absolutely lovable.  I look forward to seeing Ms. Lee in many more productions!

Another standout performance was of Emily Feliciano who played multiple roles ranging from Nancy’s little brother Evan, to the heartthrob of the class, Phillip Leroy.  Her character transitions were impeccable, her deadpan face added levels to each scene, and her commitment to her gender flipped characters was brilliant!  Although, my favorite of her characters was just her and a can of, I believe, was Aquanet Hairspray.  Trust me people, watching her with that can alone is worth the price of admission!

One other performance I want to point out was Cedric Wright who played 11393045_953996117955570_4457104242582662002_nboth Moose (Margaret’s love interest) and Norman Fishbein, an awkward Jewish boy.  Mr. Wright’s transition from one character to the next was flawless completely with physical changes and speech impediments.  He was adorable and funny, and had the perfect combination of charisma and goofiness that is needed when a grown man plays the part of a teenage boy.  And there was a moment involving spit, that while it was a complete accident, I hope they find a way to effortlessly recreate it every night, because it just elevated the scene to a level of humor that ya just can’t force!  And kudos to the whole cast for regrouping after that!  I LOVE LIVE THEATRE!!!

There were some weaknesses in this production, and sadly for me it came in the forms of the ‘grownups’ in the show.  All the children were played beautifully, but the adults were mostly played by either Jay Irwin or Michelle Flowers, and they gender flipped each character having Mr. Irwin play everyone’s mother and Ms. Flowers playing Margaret’s dad and male school teacher.  It just didn’t work.  Mr. Irwin was extremely over the top, and his timing was off, so the jokes rarely worked.  I saw him trying to work levels between normal speech patters and then dropping into his deeper voice, but the transitions were far from smooth and thus, missed the mark. There was a lot of yelling, and I didn’t understand the motivation for that.  And Ms. Flowers was not believable as a man in either role.  She misses the physicality needed to pull off masculine energy.  And there’s a scene between Margaret’s dad and Moose that was so uncomfortable, and not just because of the dialogue, but because the chemistry and read of the role by Ms. Flowers was ineffective.  I saw what director, and Artistic Director of STAGEright, Brendan Mack was going for with these characters, but sadly, they were the weakest performances in the show.

This show was music directed by the brilliant Josh Zimmerman (who I originally expressed my love for in my review of his music direction in Next to Normal at Second Story Rep), and the music truly was fantastic!  There were some sound issues in the beginning where the band overpowered the actors, but the adjustments that were made throughout the show fixed that, and it all came together in the stunning fashion I have come to expect from Mr. Zimmerman.  Ms. Frasca can sing her face off, and every time she sang a solo, my heart soared!  Karen Carpenter would have been proud.  I also enjoyed the voices of most of the “children.”  The weakness of the adults continued on into their vocal performances, including, what I thought was the biggest vocal disappointment of the show:  Karen Carpenter, played by Stephanie Graham.

Ms. Graham’s voice does not have the soft, sweet tone that Karen Carpenter had, and once Ms. Frasca joined in on the one song Karen Carpenter sings in the show, Ms. Graham was completely lost vocally. However, while she may not have had a strong vocal performance, and also completely overdid her performances in the other ensemble roles she played (especially that of Coach Barb Strutts…it was too much on level 10 the entire time of being over the top and overacted, so the impact wasn’t well received by much of the audience, and completely irritated me), Ms. Graham did look EXACTLY like Karen Carpenter!

unnamedWow!  I mean, the costumers, Cherelle and Jonelle Ashby, outdid themselves with the costume for Karen Carpenter.  The white pants, the vest, the wig!  Loved it all!  And Ms. Graham is so tall and thin that when she stepped on stage, she took my breath away with how similar she looked to Karen!  Bravo to the design team on pulling off a doppleganger of that magnitude with such an iconic figure as Karen Carpenter to recreate!

Overall the direction was strong and concise by Mr. Mack, and the design and use of Barbie dolls was inspired! You’ll have to just go see it to know what I’m talking about.

This creative, fun filled, and highly entertaining play runs through June 27th.  I strongly, seriously, and Nancy-level-bossily suggest you go see this show!  Further details and ticket information can be found on STAGEright’s website.

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Loved it! Adored it! Laughed the entire time!  GO SEE IT!  I mean it!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos courtesy of STAGEright and their Facebook page.